Q&A with Jim McCarthy!
Today I have a Q&A with my very own agent Jim McCarthy!
I’m a little obsessed with my getting-an-agent story tbh. When I was ready to submit my manuscript to agents, I was interning at DGLM. I went to the main assistant in charge of handling the interns and asked her if it would be strange for me to submit my manuscript to DGLM – or if it would be even stranger for me not to submit my manuscript to DGLM. She told me to send it to her, and she would send it on to the best-suited agent there.
A few weeks later, I walked into work. All of the interns sit at one, large communal table in the office. The interns already there looked up at me and said Jim wanted to see me upstairs. My heart dropped; my stomach clenched – this was it – face-the-music-in-person-and-not-over-email time. At that moment, I was really questioning my decision-making skills: why did I submit my manuscript to someone I work with?
I went upstairs to Jim’s loft office, where I sat down, and he then talked for about five minutes about what he loved in my manuscript and what wasn’t working in it. All the while, I was waiting for those rejection words: I can’t represent you. But the words didn’t come. So when he finished, I asked him, “Are you willing to help me with those edits or…”
And he kind of jumped forward and said, “Oh! I want to represent you! Did I not start with that?”
He did not start with that.
I received offers from a few other agents, and even though they were all wonderful, the decision was pretty easy. I’d already interned for Jim for weeks. I knew him, was comfortable with him, liked him, and knew we’d work well together.
Later, I also found out that when he’d first picked up my manuscript, he began reading without really paying attention to the email. When he got about halfway through the book, he thought, this is pretty good, went to check the query, and realized, “Oh! My intern wrote this!”
ANYWAYS I should probably wrap up talking about me now since this interview is really about Agent Wizard Jim McCarthy. So here we go!
Quick Fire Round!
- Currently reading (published title)? BLACKASS by A. Igoni Barrett
- How long have you been an agent? I’ve been with DGLM for 17 years, and have had my own clients for 14.
- Favorite genre? Impossible to answer—I read far too widely and get in reading “moods.” i.e. I’m currently working through everything Maggie Nelson has published.
- Genre you want to represent more of? Accessible adult literary fiction.
- Longest manuscript (word count) you’ve ever represented? A 225K word historical saga that is on submission now. Cross those fingers!
- Latest you’ve stayed up to read a manuscript? I’m sure in the old days, it was the crack of dawn. Now it’s more a question of the earliest I’ve ever woken up and started reading manuscripts (also the crack of dawn…if not earlier)
- Most underrated published book or author? I don’t know about “most,” but I’d love to see Percival Everett get more attention.
- Favorite social media outlet? Twitter. It’s the only one I use with any regularity.
- Book you’ve read more than three times? I’m not much of a re-reader, but Song of Solomon and Slaughterhouse-Five are two non-client books that I know I’ve revisited this many times.
- Shortest amount of time it’s taken to sell a book? 12 hours.
- Longest amount of time it’s taken to sell a book? 3 years. It’s a range!
- Most emails you’ve woken up to in your inbox? Over a 100.
- Favorite reading snack & drink? Diet Coke. Snacks are for breaks!
- Quickest time (from reading query) you’ve offered someone representation? One day. And someone else had already offered rep.
- Favorite bookish convention? I’m a big RT fan.
- Favorite past DGLM intern who now has a debut 2017 book ;)? I really wish there was someone other than you that also fit this description just so I could be a jerk!
Long Answer Round, Show Work – Just Kidding 🙂
- Why did you become a literary agent? Dumb luck. I sent 40 resumes out for part time work the summer after my freshman year of college. Stacey Glick was the first person to call me back. I had no idea what a literary agent even was. But I fell in love with the office and the work, and they could just never seem to get rid of me.
- You’ve mentioned you passed the first time on some of your now loved clients – can you go into a little detail about a success story of someone you passed on the first time? Sure. One of the very first books I ever sold was Victoria Laurie’s ABBY COOPER, PSYCHIC EYE. When I first saw it, I sent her a rejection letter saying that she had a great voice but some of the plot elements weren’t coming together quite how I hoped (I mean…this is what I remember saying. It was 13 years ago). Victoria revised very quickly, and I was hesitant to jump back in because I thought she couldn’t possibly have done enough work. I was wrong—she had revised brilliantly. I sold the book in less than a week, and now we’re still partners, have sold over 30 books together, and she’s a NYT bestseller. She had queried over 120 agents, and I’m proud to say that I was the one that saw the spark of greatness and had a vision for how to pull it out.
- What types of books do you wish you’d see in your submission box more often? This might sound terrible, but…anything other than YA. And that’s NOT to say that I want to see less YA. It’s what I’m best known for, and I love it passionately. But…it’s what I’m best known for, so it comes to me often and easily. I don’t see as much in other categories, and I’d really love to—middle grade, adult mystery, romance, literary, etc. Nonfiction of almost any sort—pop culture, history, offbeat science, anything related to the arts (especially the performing arts), etc. I think people have me in a bit of a box, and while it’s a wonderful, cozy box filled with great books and great reward, I do sometimes wish I saw more variety.
- What are some query pet peeves that turn you off before you even see the manuscript? I hate gimmicks. I hate letters written in the voice of the main characters. I despise anyone who opens with, “Dear whoever reads Jim’s submissions” or “You probably won’t even see this, but…” I ask for underrepresented voices, and I hate when people use that as a reason to send a novel about, I dunno…a mortician. Not that I don’t want to see a novel about a mortician (especially if it’s funny), but I feel like it should be obvious what I mean by underrepresented voices, and spoiler alert: straight middle class white people don’t apply. Again: I am open to novels about straight middle class white people. But don’t tell me that it’s an underrepresented voice.
- For you, what’s the most important part of a book and why (characters, prose, plot, etc.)? Characters? I don’t know. This is such an impossible question. They’re all important. I won’t sign a book with a delightful character if it’s badly written. But I do tend to access books via character first. I don’t need to like them (I can really get behind an unsympathetic protagonist), but I need to be interested in them and believe in them.
- Where do you find the majority of your clients – the slush pile, referrals, etc.? It’s still the slush pile! I love the slush pile!
- What’s your favorite part of being an agent? I mean…there’s a LOT more to it, but at the end of the day, I read for a living. And work with a bunch of incredibly interested, driven people.
- What’s your least favorite part of being an agent? That I can only control so much. And that no matter how hard I fight, there will always be times when a client is hurt or their career isn’t where they want it to be. Being emotionally invested in the success of a group of artists means that there will be stress, and while there is a lot I can control, it’s the pieces I can’t that will perpetually make me nervous.
- Is there anything a book could do that would make you say, “Nope,” and immediately stop reading it? How many pages have I read? It’s a sliding scale. The further into something I am, the more I’m willing to overlook things and come up with editorial ideas about them. If someone can’t be bothered to edit their first few chapters or I’m offended within the first pages, then I’m out pretty quickly.
- For writers searching for an agent, what advice can you give them? Persist. It may not be this book. It may not be the one agent you have selected in your mind. Keep writing. Keep querying. Don’t give up. This business will chew you up if you let it. So don’t let it. There will be absolutely horrible days as a writer. You’ll be rejected; you’ll get bad reviews; you’ll miss a deadline; you’ll get editorial feedback that you hate. And that’s just the first layer of things that can go wrong. Find a support system, steel your nerves, and keep going. There are thousands of people who can tell you that they won’t help you publish your book, but you’re the only person who can let yourself stop being a writer. Don’t.
Jim McCarthy interned for DGLM while studying urban design at New York University. Upon graduating in 2002, Jim realized he would much rather continue working with books than make the jump (as he had originally intended) to the field of city planning. Jim was raised just outside of NYC and currently lives in Manhattan.
To follow Jim on Twitter (you really should) click here!
To find out more about his submission guidelines click here!